Evelyn Shakell blends Mohawk heritage and sports

This story was published in the Winter 2023 issue of Total Sports Quinte magazine

Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Quinte

Evelyn Shakell of Tyendinaga is proud of her Mohawk heritage. She also loves playing sports.

Shakell, now a Grade 11 student at Nicholson Catholic College, had the opportunity to combine the two last summer when she won gold with Tyendinaga’s Kenhtè:ke Wolves U16 girls basketball team at the Ontario Summer Indigenous Games in Ottawa.

“The Indigenous Games tournament was an opportunity of blending my heritage and my sport,” Shakell said. “It felt so amazing to be able to be a part of a team to represent our community. My culture is my favourite thing about me and having the experience of learning more about it as well as playing my favourite sport during the tournament was such a phenomenal feeling.”

Shakell’s culture is a huge part of family life. Her father, Justin, is a teacher at Quinte Mohawk School in Tyendinaga where she previously attended.

“I went to Quinte Mohawk for grades five, six and seven and never had a more incredible learning experience,” she said. “Not only did we learn our language, but we also learned tons about our culture’s history as well as the teachings. I learned how to embrace my culture when before I knew not much about it. I would say that my culture is one of the most important things to me, having learned so much from elders at the school I am now able to share the stories and teach people about Mohawk culture. My Mohawk culture has given me a sense of belonging to a community that is so supportive with their people.”

Winning OSIG gold has been one of her coolest experiences in sport. She also enjoyed the opening ceremonies and seeing performances from people from different communities she wasn’t familiar with.

“I find learning about different nations and cultures so intriguing,” Shakell said. “Having the opportunity to go to Ottawa and stay in residence was an amazing bonding opportunity for our team, I got closer with so many important people in my life. The support we had from fans and parents made the game so much more fun to play, and knowing we were representing our community played a part in winning the gold. We felt that immense amount of pride when we won the tournament, it was a surreal feeling.”

Shakell praised coach Jamie McCourt who she says has had a big impact on her life.

“He and my dad have taught me everything I need to know about basketball,” she said, adding McCourt “spent countless hours working with me one-on-one, teaching me the fundamentals of basketball. I’ve struggled with staying calm during sport and Mr. McCourt has helped me learn how to cope while playing. A supportive and uplifting coach is one of the most important parts of a sport to me.”

That’s also the case at Nicholson with coaches Tim Coates and Justin Walsh and along with a strong group of players. Shakell has won two straight Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) silver medals in girls basketball with the Crusaders.

“I would say that my Nicholson basketball team has become so successful because of the bonds we all share and the amazing talents behind every person on the team. Some of us have played (Belleville) Spirits basketball together since elementary and have known each other for a long time. We all have our own special skill that we bring forward and we have an amazing playing dynamic,” Shakell said. “Our coaches have coached basketball at Nicholson for several years and having that experience in a coach helps with our success. I would have never gotten the opportunity to go to OFSAA without this team.”

Shakell is currently playing rep basketball with the Spirits and hopes to play rugby for the Belleville Bulldogs this summer. She’s also trying out for the Ontario basketball team that will compete this summer at the North American Indigenous Games in Halifax.

“I am hoping to make this team as it would be an unreal experience to play at that level as well as learning about more and my own culture,” she said.

In the more distant future, she has aspirations to attend Peterborough’s Trent University for Indigenous studies, but also to become a high school physical education teacher. She also aims to play university basketball or rugby.

“I think playing sports at that level would be an important learning experience and I would love to compete at that level to see if I can,” she said.

“I love sports because they have helped me be more active, they have taught me new things about myself that I wouldn’t have known, they’ve given me friendships that will last a lifetime, they give me experiences that I would never get if I didn’t play sports.”